Let’s unpack the term ‘Design Maturity’. How do you see it?
This is a great question, it’s also one of those jargon terms that has entered business vernacular, but for me design maturity is essentially an applied strategy. When I’m evaluating design maturity I look at three levels. The most basic is operational—designers are working on projects and creating deliverables for requirements. (Insert your favourite design thinking frameworks, artefacts and deliverables.) It’s what would be considered base level expectation..The next level is tactical—the organisation is thinking about design practice as a function deeply integrated into product development. Good ways of working have been defined, tool kits and capability uplift activities are in place to ensure continuous improvement. Healthy collaborative rituals such as critiques and studios, playbacks showcase are bringing everyone in the organisation along on the journey.
Most organisations with a design team will have a handle on the first two, but I would argue that maturity goes beyond operational performance, the pinnacle is the strategic level where design influences decisions that impacts market differentiation. At this level, brands and companies have developed their own language of visual, interaction and service design that enables them to provide personalised and locally relevant experiences and ultimately extend their offering beyond the transactional. Their ecosystem is well thought out and seamless to their users. Eventually their products and services inform emerging trends and patterns and improve the lives of their customers.
Depending on the area organisations operate, whether its products and services, social good or government policy, their level of design maturity is underpinned by design ethics.
Practitioners at this level have an implicit understanding that design has consequences, both intended and unintended. Mature design is strategic because it considers a preferred future, and its impact on the next billion users.
What have you seen work well in terms of raising an organisation’s level of design maturity?
I’ve seen a few things work well. Design teams should have a charter, a social contract on how they will lift each other up. Having a knowledge base and knowledge transfer is crucial for uplifting your teams. Structures such as chapters, guilds or communities of practice can really help grow a design culture. Similarly, rituals for removing blockers and creating systems to increase efficiencies so people can focus on the true nature of design. I also believe in encouraging designers to show work often and early. Work needs to be made visible to everyone in the organisation, no us and them, and no silos please. I also like to prioritise programmes and feedback loops that enable the organisation to really understand their customer’s unmet needs. The emphasis should be on equity and inclusion. Finally, we’ve got to all embrace failure. It’s an opportunity to improve the design of your product or service.
What advice would you give to businesses wanting to be more ‘design-led’ in practice?
First, create a north star by working with your stakeholders and leadership to educate and define what good design is for your organisation. This alignment of principles will ensure standards and expectations, as well as make decisions easier. I recommend giving design a platform and ensuring that designers keep track of their UX outcomes, demonstrating how these cascade up to the team, portfolio and organisation objectives and key results (OKRs). Businesses need to empower their product teams to ideate wide, fail-fast, measure and learn often. The vision piece is key here. I always recommend hiring curious people with a growth and collaborative mindsets. The final piece is rewarding experimentation and continuous improvement. You need to nurture a design culture that is willing to innovate. This is how you get to market differentiation. Innovation doesn’t have to be expensive. It can happen with the smallest interventions.
Daniel Foulds, UX Design Lead, Kmart